Village School "Farmers"

Village School students in Tobias (Toby) Hatten's Sustainability class have begun to grow fresh, local organic vegetables year-round as a result of their experimental 12-month farming project utilizing two new hoop houses (also known as low tunnels) built this fall by the students.

Work on the hoop houses, inexpensive temporary greenhouse structures, was completed by the students in the class, which encompasses all grades, freshmen through seniors. Students researched, designed, and constructed the hoop houses. Materials needed to construct a hoop house include: four 10' PVC pipes, eight 2' rebars, one 10' x 20' plastic sheet, and some rope.

Students began by driving the rebar anchors into the ground. Next, they placed one end of a PVC pipe on the end of a rebar and bent it into a half-hoop shape, placing the other end onto the other anchor. This was repeated four times for each hoop house. After the hoops were constructed, the students draped plastic sheeting over them. The sheeting was tied off at both ends and anchored down with weights. To keep the sheeting taught and prevent it from blowing away in heavy winds, students crisscrossed string over the hoop houses.

The student-constructed hoop houses will permit year-round gardening. Though temporary, the greenhouse structures will help protect plants from freezing, thus keeping them alive in the upcoming cold weather. The sun's heat and energy can penetrate the plastic sheeting, but not escape. The heat that is trapped inside keeps the temperature about 10º F warmer than the outside temperature. This will allow hardy crops to survive even in below freezing temperatures.

Before planting the seeds--beans, cabbage, lettuce, microgreens, and spinach--students prepared the planting beds by watering them. The seeds were then planted under a blanket of mulch inside the hoop houses.

"Once harvested," Mr. Hatten said, "the vegetables will be prepared during class as part of healthy lunch offerings and as great alternatives to less nutritious snacks. Sustainability class offered farm-grown vegetables last year, but this year's hoop houses will expand our growing season."

"It's really important," he explained, "to teach students how to sustain a healthy life. This 'farm-to-plate' connection includes teaching them how to grow and prepare their own produce to be used in healthy meals."

Principal Steven Goldberg called it a "win-win experience!"

Over time, Village School students hope to expand their garden and be able to donate the food they grow to those in need through local "rock Can roll" food drive programs. One student said, "It's a way that we can give back to the community that has provided us a different path to success at the Village School, Great Neck's third High School!" Another added, "Our Sustainability class has opened our eyes to new foods and hobbies."